Julian Trevelyan



Metal, clay, wood and Perspex
Displayed: 400 x 465 x 68 mm
Purchased 1998


Created by the British artist Julian Trevelyan, Bomblet 1937 consists of a metal baking tray with twelve éclair-shaped compartments, each containing a small clay sculpture, which is mounted within a glazed gilt picture frame. The hand-moulded sculptures, which are coated in flesh pink acrylic paint and held in place with a red adhesive that is visible around their edges, have biomorphic shapes, some of which seem sexual or intestinal in appearance while others are more reminiscent of sea creatures. The ornate wooden frame, which constitutes part of the work, has gold leaf decoration and dates from the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries. The work is signed and dated on its reverse in red varnish.

Bomblet was made at Durham Wharf, a studio complex in Hammersmith in London where Trevelyan lived and worked from 1935 until his death in 1988 (see Durham Wharf 1971, Tate P01318). Trevelyan’s practice mainly consisted of painting, print-making and etching, and he constructed the rare sculptural forms seen in Bomblet from the clay remains of over-fired pots made by his then wife, the painter and potter Ursula Darwin (later Mommens).

Bomblet brings together an unusual assemblage of materials and forms of display. The presentation behind glass of the small biomorphic sculptures seems to suggest they are scientific specimens, although this notion is somewhat undermined by their placement within a domestic baking tray. The inclusion of a traditional picture frame adds to the incongruity of the arrangement, which can perhaps be viewed as having comic connotations.

The apparently playful juxtaposition of elements employed in Bomblet can be seen as part of Trevelyan’s active role in the development of surrealism, the movement that emerged in the early 1920s and in which particular emphasis was placed on unexpected combinations, often linked to ideas concerning dreams and the unconscious. Trevelyan first became involved in surrealist activities and publications while studying literature at the University of Cambridge (1929–31), and later claimed that, ‘Surrealism was a kind of liberation, a magic door opening onto a world of poetry’ (quoted in José Manser, Mary Fedden and Julian Trevelyan: Life and Art by the River Thames, London 2012, p.37). In 1931–4 Trevelyan lived in Paris, where he worked alongside artists such as Max Ernst and Joan Miró, who were closely involved in the city’s burgeoning surrealist scene. After returning to London in 1934, Trevelyan became a founding member of the English Surrealist Group in 1936, and his etching Dream Scaffold 1936–71 (Tate P01306) was among five works by Trevelyan shown in the seminal International Surrealist Exhibition held at the New Burlington Galleries in London in 1936. In 1937 Trevelyan was a principle instigator of the exhibition Surrealist Objects and Poems at the Jonathan Clark Gallery in London, and it is thought that this work owned by Tate is one of two ‘Bomblets’ that he contributed to the show (see Royal College of Art 1998, p.13).

Trevelyan’s involvement with surrealism faded in the late 1930s when he began making paintings and prints that depicted everyday urban life in northern England. The river Thames in London subsequently became a particular focus in his work (see, for instance, Thames Regatta 1951, Tate P11237), while etchings returned as a prominent part of his practice in the 1960s and 1970s (see, for instance, Kilns 1979, Tate P11250).

First purchased from the artist by a private collector in the late 1930s, Bomblet was for many decades believed lost before being acquired by Tate in 1998.

Further reading
Julian Trevelyan, Indigo Days, London 1957, pp.73–4.
The Imaginative Impulse: Julian Trevelyan, 1910–88, exhibition catalogue, Royal College of Art, London 1998, p.13.
Philip Trevelyan, Julian Trevelyan: Picture Language, Farnham 2013, pp.72–99.

Richard Martin
August 2015

Supported by Christie’s.

Display caption

Trevelyan was living in Paris in the early 1930s when the Surrealists began to explore the idea of the Surrealist object, which appeared to embody hidden or repressed desires. Following the same tradition, Bomblet is at once disconcerting and vaguely comical. The tactile forms, suggesting organic or body parts, contrast with the elaborate framing. It was, apparently, the discovery of a baking tray that triggered the potential for the unsettling object.

Gallery label, July 2008